US travel warning ahead of Obama visit to Nairobi

Obama travels to Nairobi and Addis Ababa

The US has warned its citizens in Kenya of the potential for terrorist attacks during the upcoming visit of US president Barack Obama which starts on 23 July.

Obama will participate in the Sixth Annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) in Nairobi from 24-26 July, before travelling to Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for two days.

Washington's travel warning relates to the ongoing insurgency in Kenya by al-Shabaab, the radical Islamist militants responsible for killing 148 people at a university in the north-eastern town of Garissa in April.

The rebels were also behind the massacre of 67 people at Nairobi's Westgate Mall which reopens on 18 July, almost two years after the siege.

A $2 million revamp of Nairobi is nearing completion ahead of Obama's visit to his father's home country, the US leader's first such visit since he took office in 2009. Obama is expected to hold talks with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, focusing mainly on bilateral cooperation including trade, security, energy and technology transfer.

However it is unlikely that Obama will meet the Uhuru's deputy William Ruto who stands accused of crimes against humanity in connection with post-election violence after Kenya's 2007 elections.

Ruto has recently stepped up his opposition to homosexual rights, with his stance receiving widespread support in the deeply conservative country where gay sex is illegal. Ruto's anti-gay comments are interpreted as a warning to Obama not to bring any talk of homosexual rights to Kenya, following the US president's track record of debating the taboo topic on previous visits to Tanzania and Senegal.

After Nairobi, Obama travels to Addis Ababa on 26 July, becoming the first sitting US president to visit Ethiopia. There he will hold bilateral meetings with the ruling Ethiopia People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) which recently celebrated a landslide victory amid opposition allegations of intimidation and vote rigging.

Obama will also meet the leadership of the African Union (AU), which is based in the Ethiopian capital. Ahead of Obama's visit Ethiopia recently released five bloggers and journalists imprisoned for over a year after government prosecutors dropped charges of attempting to sabotage the state. At least four other reporters remain in jail.

Human rights groups have questioned the timing of Obama's visit, given the suppression of freedom of press in Ethiopia and the rising anti-gay sentiment in Kenya.

However the neighbouring countries have been to the forefront in the battle against al-Shabaab, and both are important security partners to the US in a volatile but strategic region.

This will be Obama's fourth visit to the African continent since becoming US president.